The U.N. World Food Program on Tuesday warned that half a million earthquake survivors have yet to receive relief supplies, and Pakistan's president said during a visit to a quake-stricken town that he had appealed to the international community for more tents to shelter the homeless.
Pakistani and U.S. military helicopters delivered aid under sunny skies to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan's portion of the divided Kashmir region, which suffered most of the damage and casualties from last week's massive earthquake. Relief workers rushed to set up field hospitals to treat thousands of stranded, injured people.
The relief effort is one of the most challenging the world has ever faced, according to James Morris, executive director of the WFP.
"The aid agencies have managed to give some help to hundreds of thousands of people, but there are an estimated half a million more people out there in desperate need, who no one has managed to reach," Morris said in Dubai. "People don't just need food, first of all they need shelter, blankets and medical assistance, then food and clean water."
The WFP said hundreds of villages had not yet received help. Heavy rains on Sunday grounded many relief flights.
Authorities warned that exposure and infections could drive the death toll up from 54,000 as the harsh Himalayan winter loomed. Landslides caused by the 7.6-magnitude earthquake on Oct. 8 cut off many roads, and they could take weeks to clear, the AP says.
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf traveled by helicopter to the Kashmiri town of Bagh, where he met earthquake victims with broken limbs and other injuries. He said shelter was a priority.
"We gave all the tents that the army had. We bought all that were in Pakistan. Now we are looking abroad, in the international community," Musharraf said.
The United Nations said more than 80 helicopters were flying, and that the world body was planning to send up to 150,000 tents for the homeless, in addition to about 30,000 already distributed.
It said field hospitals with operating theaters were being set up, improving the survival chances for those requiring urgent surgery, but that the large numbers of patients was still "overwhelming."
Keith Ursel, Muzaffarabad operations head for the WFP, said thousands of lives were at stake.
"We need 570 tons of food every day to feed the affected people stranded in these villages," he said. "It is always a mixture of starvation, wounds or rough weather and fear which lead to massive deaths in such a situation."
Some 1,360 people died in the Indian-held part of divided Kashmir. Conflict in Indian Kashmir continued Tuesday, with suspected Islamic militants killing the state's education minister during a raid on a high-security neighborhood that also left at least three others dead.
On photo: James Morris, executive director of the WFP.